British Airways today announced that its fleet of 31 Boeing 747 aircraft, fondly known as ‘The Queen of the Skies’, are likely to have flown their last scheduled commercial service. The fleet was meant to have retired in 2024.

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British Airways Boeing 747’s at London Heathrow airport showing the new Chatham Dockyard tailfin design
Photo: NewsCast

“After nearly five decades of service and millions of miles flown around the globe, it is proposed that the airline’s remaining fleet of 31 747-400 aircraft will be retired with immediate effect as a result of the devasting impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the airline and the aviation sector, which is not predicted to recover to 2019 levels until 2023/24,” British Airways said.

One year ago British Airways re-painted four of its jumbo jets in heritage colours to mark the company’s centenary. The BOAC jet put in a guest appearance with the Red Arrows  at the Royal International Air Tattoo.

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FAIRFORD, ENGLAND – JULY 20: A British Airways special liveried Boeing 747 takes to the skies alongside the Red Arrows during the 2019 Royal International Air Tattoo on July 20, 2019 at RAF Fairford, England. The Boeing 747 has been painted in the airline’s predecessor British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) livery to mark British Airways’ centenary this year. (Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images for British Airways)

BOAC operated its first 747 London to New York service on 14 April 1971 and in July 1989 the first British Airways 747-400, the aircraft type the airline still flies today, took to the skies.

The fuel-hungry aircraft were slowly being phased out by British Airways, which has invested in new, modern long-haul aircraft including six A350s and 32 787s.

Alex Cruz, British Airways’ Chairman and CEO, said: “It is a heart-breaking decision to have to make. So many people, including many thousands of our colleagues past and present, have spent countless hours on and with these wonderful planes – they have been at the centre of so many memories, including my very first long-haul flight.”

Plane spotters who lined Heathrow’s perimeter fences would watch as the magnificent 747-400 would typically take off at 180mph and reach cruising speeds in the sky of up to 565mph.


At one point British Airways operated 57 747-400 aircraft. The original aircraft featured 27 First Class seats and 292 Economy seats. Initially, the upper deck, widely described as the bubble, contained a lounge, with lounge chair seating. It was known as the ‘club in the sky’ and the aircraft also played host to the world’s very first flat bed seat which British Airways pioneered in 1999.

Today’s aircraft can seat up to 345 customers in four classes – First, Club World (Business), World Traveller Plus (Premium Economy) and World Traveller (Economy). British Airways recently refreshed the interiors of a number of its 747 aircraft which were expected to remain in service for several years to come.

The airline’s jumbo jets are currently grounded at various locations in the UK and are now only expected to reach heights of 35,000 feet as they make their final journeys.